Nothing looks better than a fence clean from weeds right? It all depends on the goal you have in mind. If you want to one day receive the infamous honor of “yard of the month”, than you might want the cleanest and straightest fence around. If you have goals of providing a habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects, some selective strategies need to be implemented. Providing a habitat for beneficials can easily be achieved through minimal maintenance and selective plant removal.
A typical clean fence row. Photo Credit: Iowa State University Extension
If you are starting with a clean fence free of herbaceous plants, shrubs, vines, and trees then you have two options: Replant vegetation for the ideal habitat(1) or allow for natural plant succession to take its course(2). If you chose option 2, that’s it, you’re done. However, if you chose option 1 then you begin the search of garden centers for desirable plants.
In order to pick the best plants, you will need to think about what you want to attract. Do you want to attract vertebrates, invertebrates, or a little of both? Vertebrates are attracted to plants that provide shelter and food. A good start for selecting plants would be to read the publication “Native Plants That Benefit Native Wildlife in the Florida Panhandle”.
As you already know, pollinator insects are attracted to nectar and pollen. However, beneficial insects cannot survive on just eating bad bugs and they need supplemental nutrition. They receive this supplemental nutrition by way of extrafloral nectaries. Extrafloral nectaries are nectar-producing glands located on plant parts other than the flowers. They can be located on plant leaves, stems, or fruit. A list of plants containing extrafloral nectaries can be found in the publication “Many Plants Have Extrafloral Nectaries Helpful to Beneficials”.
A milkweed assassin bug. Photo Credit: Texas A&M University.
Although it’s great idea to attract wildlife to your fencerows, it is important to choose plant material based on your fence’s location in vicinity to your house. Fire can easily jump from plant material to fences to your house. The Firewise Communities Guidelines should be followed for landscaping your home.
The Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is one of the most iconic figures of the Deep South. Mentioning the words Live Oak invokes all sorts of romantic nostalgia of yesteryear and the reputation is not unearned. In fact, many Live Oaks still stand that were growing on American soil when the first English settlers set foot on Plymouth Rock. They are long-lived, picturesque trees that also happen to be nearly bulletproof in the landscape. Given these factors, it is not surprising that Live Oak is far and away the most common tree included in both residential and commercial landscapes in the Coastal South. However, even the venerable Live Oak is not without its problems; this article will discuss a few of the more common issues seen with this grand species.
The Angel Oak near Charleston, SC
Few conditions afflict live oak but when they do, improper planting or cultural practices are usually at play. Observing the following best management practices will go a long way toward ensuring the long-term health of a planted Live Oak:
- Remember to always plant trees a little higher than the surrounding soil to prevent water standing around the trunk or soil piling up around it, both of these issues frequently cause rot to occur at the base of the tree.
- If planting a containerized tree, remember to score the rootball to prevent circling roots that will eventually girdle the tree. If planting a B&B (Balled and Burlap) specimen, remember to remove the strapping material from the top of the wire basket, failure to do this can also result in the tree being girdled.
Live Oak has few insect pests but there are some that prove bothersome to homeowners. The following are two of the most common pests of Live Oaks and how to manage them:
Typical galling on Live Oak
Galls are cancerous looking growths that appear on the leaves and twigs of Live Oak from time to time and are caused by gall wasps that visit the tree and lay their eggs inside the leaf or stem of the plant. The larvae hatch and emerge from the galls the following spring to continue the cycle. These galls are rarely more than aesthetically displeasing, however it is good practice to remove and destroy gall infected stems/leaves from younger trees as gall formation may cause some branch dieback or defoliation. Chemical control is rarely needed or practical (due to the very specific time the wasps are outside the tree and active) in a home landscape situation.
- Black Twig Borers can also be problematic. These little insects seldom kill a tree but their damage (reduction of growth and aesthetic harm) can be substantial. Infestations begin in the spring in Northwest Florida, with the female twig borer drilling a pen-head sized hole in a large twig or small branch and then laying her eggs in the ensuing cavity. She then transmits an ambrosia fungus that grows in the egg-cavity, providing food for the borer, other borer adults, and her offspring that take up residence and over-winter in the twig. The activity of the insects in the twig has an effect similar to girdling; the infected twig will rapidly brown and die, making removal and destruction of the infected branches a key component
In conclusion, though there are a few problems that can potentially arise with Live Oak, its premier status and continued widespread use in the landscape is warranted and encouraged. It should be remembered that, relative to most other candidates for shade trees in the landscape, Live Oak is extremely durable, long-lived, and one of most pest and disease free trees available. Happy growing!
Summer is full of simple pleasures—afternoon rainstorms, living in flip flops, and cooling off in a backyard pool. Among these, one of my favorites is walking out my door and picking handfuls of figs right from the tree. Before we planted our tree, my only prior experience with the fruit was a Fig Newton—I’d never eaten an actual fig, much less one picked fresh. Now, they are my favorite fruit.
When ripe, figs are a deep shade of pink to purple. Larger green figs will ripen over the course of a few days. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson
Native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, figs were introduced to Florida in the 1500’s by Spanish explorers. Spanish missionaries introduced these relatives of the mulberry to California a couple hundred years later. Figs are best suited to dry, Mediterranean-type climates, but do quite well in the southeast. Due to our humidity, southern-growing figs are typically fleshier and can split when heavy rains come through. The biggest threats to the health of the trees are insects, disease (also due to our more humid climate) and root-knot nematodes.
Fig trees can grow quite large and produce hundreds of fruit each year. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson
Our tree started out just a couple of feet tall, but 12 years ago we replanted it along a fence in our back yard. It has grown so large (easily 25 feet tall and equally wide) that it hangs over our driveway, making it handy to grab a few as I hop in the car to run errands. The tree is in full sun at the bottom of a slope, and seems to be a satisfied recipient of all the runoff from our backyard. This position has resulted in a thick layer of soil and mulch in which it thrives.
We usually see small green fruit start to appear in early May, becoming fat and ripe by the second half of June. The tree produces steadily through early August, when the tree’s leaves turn crispy from the summer heat and there’s no more fruit to bear. The common fig doesn’t require a pollinator, so only one tree is necessary for production. The fiber-rich fig is also full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, E, and K. As it turns out, the “fruit” is actually a hollow peduncle (stem) that grows fleshy, forming a structure called a synconium. The synconium is full of unfertilized ovaries, making a fig a container that holds both tiny flowers and fruit in one.
The insides of a fig show the small flowering structures that form the larger fruit. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson
With the hundreds of figs we’ve picked, my family has made fig preserves, fig ice cream, baked figs and of course eaten them raw. We typically beg friends and neighbors to come help themselves—and bring a ladder—because we can’t keep up with the productivity. Often you can tell you’re near our tree from around the block, as the aroma of fermenting fruit baking on the driveway is far-reaching.
No matter what you do with them, I encourage planting these trees in your own yard to take full advantage of their sweet, healthy fruit and sprawling shade. As Bill Finch of the Mobile (AL) botanical gardens has written, “fresh…figs are fully enjoyed only by the family that grows them, and the very best figs are inevitably consumed by the person who picks them.”
Sometimes when we talk about the size of things we like to estimate and don’t worry too much about being precise, but there are times when as little as a half inch really is a big deal. When talking about landscape maintenance and pest management that half inch can be crucial.
Here are three examples of when less than an inch may be significant.
Bermudagrass lawn cut at half-inch different height. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
Mowing your turf. If you read Mowing Matters last month, you saw mowing height recommendations for common turf types grown in north Florida. We gave a range of heights, but besides referring to the handy chart, you need to pay attention to your specific site. If you begin to mow and the current setting is too low, shut down the mower and adjust the height.
In this picture you can see that just raising the deck up one-half inch prevented the entire yard from being scalped and put under additional stress. After less than a week of proper irrigation the scalped area recovered and the yard looked uniform to casual inspection.
Treating Mole Crickets. The common knee-jerk reaction to seeing adult mole crickets during a mating flight is to treat the lawn. However, when you see the adults they are past the stage of being susceptible to most pesticide treatments. It is also too early to target the next generation – after all you are witnessing mating flights, so time is needed for egg maturation, hatching, and nymph development and feeding before treatment will be effective. Depending on several factors such as temperature and soil moisture nymphs will become active anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months after adults are seen.
Adult and nymphs of mole crickets. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
Before applying any pesticides, be sure to scout for appropriate life stage (nymphs approximately ½ inch long) and action thresholds of mole crickets by performing a soap flush (details can be found here Mole Cricket IPM Guide for Florida).
Turf Irrigation. It is important to calibrate your irrigation system and make sure that each turfgrass zone is putting out a minimum of one-half inch of water uniformly.
Why this amount? Research has shown that in most Florida soils application of one inch of water will reach the top twelve inches of soil. Healthy turfgrass roots are typically found in the top 4-6 inches of soil, so by applying one half-inch of water per irrigation cycle you should deliver water to turf roots.
To see an example of how to calibrate your system watch this short video demonstration by Dr. Laurie Trenholm, UF/IFAS Turfgrass specialist.